Monday, October 30, 2006

Comfort Afloat

Physical comfort is relative, but there can come a point when one is not at all comfortable. People will pay a lot to have comfort, and those who are in pain will make sacrifices to rid themselves of it so that they can have a measure of comfort.

What material comforts would you have aboard your ideal yacht? Standing headroom could be the most important requirement, but for some this would be well down on their list, because they would argue that most of the time when aboard their yachts they sit, rather than stand. In that case, comfortable seats would be their priority. When moving about the boat, being able to hang on to substantial hand rails or grips can add to the crew’s comfort and improve safety aboard. Any constraints restricting movement within a boat that can be removed will add greatly to the comfort of the crew - simple things like having floorboards that slope upwards either side of the cabin sole to compensate for the angle of heel when the boat is sailing to windward, and locating the galley near the centre of the yacht to reduce movement when in a seaway; and having a locker for the waterproof clothing at the entrance to the cabin so that wet items need not be taken into an area that should remain dry.

The Paradox sailboat that I am building is at the stage where the interior is being built and this subject of ‘comfort’ is high on my agenda. Although I shall not be have standing headroom, unless the hatch is open, I’m trying to make the boat as comfortable as possible. Perhaps a younger man would be more concerned about making his boat work with a minimum of comforts, maybe because of his limited budget or because he simply does not have the patience or time to make her more comfortable. For me, comfort is a priority, and therefore if I can build my tiny boat so as to be easy to operate with the minimum of effort, this will add greatly to my comfort. Fortunately, Paradox is well designed in the ergonomic sense; most items of ‘furniture’ within the cabin are just right, for example, the steering lines are at the correct height, so that little effort is required to hold them, and the transverse seat is at the exact height to enable the crew to see the horizon through 360 degrees, but there are touches a builder can add, such as providing a place for pots and pans so they can be within easy reach of the cook, and having pumped fresh water, rather than bottles with screw-on tops. I like the idea of being able to get at my crockery and cutlery without difficulty; therefore I have devised very simple racks for them within hand’s reach. I’ll be buying a comfortable waterproof cushion, similar to the sort provided with wheelchairs for their users who sit on them for long periods of time. I shall have mine, not just for sitting on, but for kneeling, especially when I’m preparing or cooking food at the galley. I’ve made a table that can be placed athwart the cabin for use when I’m seated on the transverse seat or when I’m lounging on the self-inflating mattress. This versatility means I’ll be able to use it as a navigation table, or for when I have a meal, or to support my computer, book etc.. My instruments, such as the compass, the echo sounder and the GPS, can be seen at a glance when I'm seated at the helmsman's seat.

Some boats are more comfortable at sea than others, and generally the comfortable ones are the heavy displacement craft, because their very heaviness cushions or reduces the effect waves have on the boat. For her length, Paradox is heavy, and the fact that she has a flat bottom lessens her tendency to roll - especially when sailing downwind, unlike narrow yachts with bulbous keels.

The fact that I’ll be able to operate my Paradox from inside the cabin when the weather is inclement, means I’ll be able to keep myself warm and dry, which will add greatly to my comfort. All in all, Paradox will be one of the most comfortable boats I will have had the pleasure of owning, although she’ll be my smallest 'proper' yacht.